For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be a force for positive change. Instilled in me by my grandfather, he would often remind us how important it was to speak our minds and to question. He taught me to be respectful, thoughtful and to give back and never ever take privilege for granted. Everything can change in a heartbeat.
Last night, when I was sharing with a fellow type 1 friend about my upcoming online yoga challenge, she said: “this challenge is so needed in the world!” It was a sweet compliment but it made me think.
I’ve always seen yoga and yoga practices as life changing, transformative and something that anyone can benefit from. In fact, I can remember when I started teaching teachers I had this goal of training enough people so that everybody in the whole world would do yoga. Nearly 17 years later just about everyone in the world does do yoga.
So besides all the hype, how can yoga make a difference? Why is it so needed? Because whether we live with a chronic disease or not. We are all suffering from stress and burnout. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded. Bombarded with must do’s and have’s. Sometimes trying to decide where to put my energy, money and time is enough to make me want to sit down, cover my ears and scream, “Enough!”
In my personal experience if yoga can offer one thing it’s simplification
When I keep things simple and eliminate the complications it gives me breathing space. Instead of long drawn out yoga postures which include bending into pretzel shapes. I do the same easy routine every day. It’s nice to add in a more complex move every now and then but I’ve learned it’s not necessary. Some forward bends before dinner and a few moments of quiet reflection prepare me for a good night’s sleep.
Living with diabetes means it’s even more important to stay calm and balanced.
As a yogi and yoga teacher, I’ve learned that understanding how the mind works is key in handling stress and achieving balance. When I first started practicing I learned to meditate and observe my thoughts. Later I learned that watching my thoughts (mindfulness) is just the beginning.
Even more powerful is knowing who is having the thoughts. Knowing the thinker. No matter how big the thought, the thinker has to be there. Without the thinker what thought?
When life gets overwhelming reminding myself that I am the thinker of the thoughts, puts everything in perspective.
We spend our whole lives obsessed with our thoughts, trying to banish them or tame them. And when we can’t resolve the thoughts our mental health suffers. I can sometimes spend way too long obsessing about my thoughts about diabetes. The quicker I catch myself going off the rails the better. I like to think of it as fishing for thoughts. If a thought starts to swim away I catch it and hold it close. When you try to hang on to a thought it quickly dissipates. Thoughts are ephemeral like that. But when you try not to think about something all you do is think about it more.
Yoga is so powerful in meeting the mind head on. Instead of trying to squash thoughts we can focus on something like the breath, or a sound, or a posture or even work with hand gestures. There are so many ways to bring the mind into a one pointed focus. And the cool thing is that these practices are for everybody.
When I tell people that I teach yoga I can get a variety of responses but the most common one is Yoga? I’m not good at that. I love sharing that yoga is so much more than the physical practice.
In general, the physical practice is designed to:
- detoxify and purify the physical body bringing it back to its natural state.
- help the mind to slow down
On a deeper level, yoga practice suspends for a moment all the ideas, thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. That’s why we feel so good when we finish the practice. All the thoughts we’ve been getting lost in seem to disappear and we feel calm and peaceful.
Once the nervous system gets the hint that we don’t always need to be in the stress response (fight or flight) we spend more time in the relaxed part of our nervous system. This means our tendency to habitually react to stressful thoughts, events and experiences also relaxes. This is so helpful when we live with diabetes. The more I can look at the numbers on my meter and stay calm. The less I react to my feelings about diabetes and the better I feel no matter what’s happening.
When I was putting together my upcoming yoga challenge, Better Diabetes Management in 7 steps with Yoga, I thought about what sorts of things I wanted to share. Rather than making each step about a physical postural practice I wanted to focus on the core of what yoga actually does, balance and calm the nervous system.
In the challenge I’ll be sharing:
About Ayurveda and how to discover your ayurvedic type
A short physical practice to improve circulation
Mudras (hand gestures) for balancing the emotions
How sound (mantra) works to heal the nervous system
A calming breathing practice that you can do anywhere anytime
How to give yourself a nurturing foot massage that promotes deep sleep
And a creative mandala (yantra) exercise to inspire gratitude and devotion
These are the practices I do every day to be a positive force for change in my own life with diabetes and I am so excited to share them with you too.
If you’d like to join the challenge its free and you can sign up here.